Myths and urban legends that are widely perpetuated as alleged scientific facts are pretty irritating. One of the more common ones is that we use only 10-20% of our brain. There really is no scientific basis for this; every part of the brain has a known function. These myths do make for some interesting fiction, though, such as in Neil Burger’s Limitless (2011).
When out-of-work writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), he realizes he has no future and no hope of escaping his circumstances. Morra’s despair vanishes after meeting his ex-brother-in-law who introduces Morra to NZT, a top-secret pharmaceutical that makes its user hyper-focused and allows him to recall everything he has ever learned, read, or heard. While on NZT, he is able to use all of his brain and his possibilities become unlimited. As a former nobody, Morra starts rising to the top of the financial world which draws the attention of business tycoon Carl Von Loon (Robert De Niro). Von Loon sees this enhanced version of Morra as a tool to make billions. As he climbs the corporate ladder, Morra finds other former users of NZT. Some have withered away to sickly versions of their former selves, most are dead. Others discover Morra’s secret and try to remove him. As drug dealers, business men, and old contacts close in on Morra, he finds his supply of NZT dwindling. What happens if he runs out? Will his stash last long enough to outsmart the enemies he has made?
I think Limitless has a lot of appeal; who hasn’t wished they could be more focused and motivated? Moments after Morra’s first time using NZT, I was wondering where I could possibly get such a miracle drug myself! Morra finishes the novel he is writing in days, he invests in the stock market, and makes millions in a matter of days. He fascinates women, and knows how to handle nearly any situation. It seems Morra’s initial plan, with his new found mental proficiency, was to impress women so they’ll have sex with him; Sigmund Freud would have plenty to say about that. But Morra’s scope expands to loftier goals and more reputable endeavors.
Visually depicting a character's thought process can be tricky. Internal dialogue and flashback are usually implemented, but are almost cliché from being overused. There were some creative visuals used while Morra was on NZT to show how time seems to pass differently for him and how solutions to his problems materialize before him. It was interesting to watch.
There are some problems with the movie. Having an actor like De Niro should heighten the quality of the movie, but he was given a very dull, one-dimensional character that could have been played by just about anyone. De Niro should be reserved for complex, interesting roles; his talent was superbly undermined in this movie. The NZT drug is supposed to perfect the user's memory recall. If making big bucks only takes the ability to remember everything that is heard about Wall Street, what is to keep someone with access to the internet from doing the same thing? Limitless assumes that perfect memory is all that is required, and that intelligence and reasoning skills are irrelevant. There is also a matter of a subplot not being resolved. Morra is a suspect in a murder; we never learn whether or not he was guilty. Nor do we see how this affects his climbing the corporate ladder. Nevertheless, Limitless is exciting and fun to watch; just don’t get too hung up on some technicalities.
Limitless was not a terribly profound movie. It has it’s weak points, but is has a very interesting premise. I think the premise is what drove the movie forward more than the characters or story did. It was certainly enjoyable enough to merit seeing once. It’s a renter; I didn’t like it enough to want to go out and buy a copy, but I did like it. I wouldn’t suggest watching it with impressionable viewers; it does sort of glorify drug use. Limitless could be used as a segue into a discussion about drug use, I suppose.